Acid test for bio-security

THERE’S growing pressure on the State Government to ensure its bio-security measures are stepped up after the detection of foot and mouth disease fragments in meat products interstate.

Federal Agriculture Minister Murray Watt confirmed on Wednesday that a passenger travelling from Indonesia had been seized with an undeclared beef product that tested positive for viral fragments. Foot and mouth disease fragments were also found in pork products being sold in Melbourne’s CBD. These products were imported from China and also found to have fragments of African swine fever.

“At one level these detections are very disturbing, at another level these detections show that our borders are strong and that our bio-security systems are working.” Senator Watt sad. He said citric acid sanitation foot mats would be introduced at international airports as Indonesia, including the popular tourist spot of Bali, continues to battle against the spread of the disease. It’s in addition to a $14 million bio-security commitment announced by the Commonwealth Government last week.

“These sanitation mats will be a physical reminder to passengers to do the right thing to limit any spread of FMD and will be used in conjunction with our current measures, such as passenger declaration, 100 per cent profiling of all passengers entering from Indonesia, real-time risk assessments, questioning and show cleaning,” Senator Watt said. Tasmanian Primary Industries Minister Jo Palmer was briefed for the Federal Minister shortly after news of the virus detection. Mrs Palmer said she had advocated for the strongest possible protections at the Australian border as well support for Tasmania.

“Our national border is our first line of defence to keep FMD out of the country, and I am pushing for the greatest level of support to ensure Tasmania is protected,” Mrs Palmer said. “I urge every traveller to follow bio-security instructions and work with our border staff to keep Tasmania safe. Foot and mouth disease is highly contagious and has the potential to wipe out Australia’s cattle industry and cost $80 billion dollars over a decade.”

In Tasmania an additional eight bio-security officers are working at airports to provide increased inspection and surveillance activities. However, some returning travellers have told Tasmanian Country they were alarmed there were no audio messages or information given out on aircraft and not everyone was being stopped at airports and questioned. Mrs Palmer said that was not her own personal experience during recent interstate travel, having been asked twice both on the tarmac and inside the airport terminal.

“There is an expectation that anyone who is coming through is being asked where they have come from,” Mrs Palmer said. “When I returned to Launceston a few days ago, every person, and I witnessed it myself, including me and my family were asked where we had been, had we been to Indonesia, had we travelled to Bali. “I have absolute confidence in our bio-security team. “This is the same group of people who for the last two years stood between us and Covid, they know what they’re doing, they’ve been trained in emergency response and now we have them standing for us at our entry points with regard to foot and mouth and lumpy skin disease.”

Shadow Primary Industries Minister Janie Finlay said the state need strong and immediate action. “The government has done the bare minimum to bolster Tasmania’s bio-security in the past week. In further efforts to strengthen protection of farms, the TFGA will receive an additional $350,000 over three years from the State Government to fund a dedicated bio-security project officer. TFGA acting chief executive Marcus McShane said it would allow them to continue work already being done with farmers to provide updated information, answer bio-security questions and proactively manage on-farm bio-security.

“We’ve had bio-security plans on farms for quite a while now, I think people have got a little complacent in recent times, they see the signs on gates and generally drive past them and this is a little bit of a wakeup call to stop and take notice,” Mr McShane said. Farmer and chair of the Bio-security Advisory Committee Felicity Richards said on the ground engagement with farmers was vital.